author: Gabriele Marcotti
source: The Times Online
date: 20 April 2009
One of the established truisms in football is that excellent goalkeeping is essential in knockout competitions. Over the course of a league season, goalkeeping performances can level themselves out, but in a cup format, a blunder or unbelievable save can mean the difference between advancement and elimination. Or so we thought . . .
In fact, the last eight of the Champions League this season would seem to suggest that the above is just a myth. There have been few outstanding performances by goalkeepers in the knockout phase (which may explain the unusually high number of goals scored).
First, one basic caveat: there is no objective, let alone statistical, method of measuring how good a goalkeeper is.
Edwin van der Sar, of Manchester United, was, of course, a great goalkeeper, but, at 38, is well past his best. José Manuel Reina, of Liverpool, and Petr Cech, of Chelsea, are both outstanding goalkeepers, but both made fairly crass blunders when their sides met at Stamford Bridge last week. And, in Cech’s case, it is probably fair to say this is his worst season since joining Chelsea in 2004.
Helton, the Porto goalkeeper, has a knack for making the odd spectacular blunder and, even when on form, seems average at best. Manuel Almunia, of Arsenal, is uncapped by Spain and, at 31, is in only his second season as a regular starter at the club, which probably suggests that he is not the second coming of Lev Yashin (Lukasz Fabianski, who came on when Almunia was injured in the first leg against Villarreal, has started a total of four Premier League games and the jury is still out, as evidenced by events on Saturday). Diego López, another uncapped Spaniard, became Villareal's regular goalkeeper only midway through last season, and had never before been a consistent top-flight starter, which, given that he’s 27, suggests that he is not exactly a prodigy.
Michael Rensing, Bayern Munich’s goalkeeper for much of the season, is also in his first year as a regular. But after conceding five goals against Wolfsburg in the Bundesliga he was dropped to the bench for the match against Barcelona, giving way to Hans-Jorg Butt, the veteran who had not been a full-time starter since early 2007. Butt does have international caps — three — but his last appearance for Germany was nearly six years ago, emphasising how he has declined.
Then there is Victor Valdés, a man destined to divide opinion. To some he is one of the best in the world, to others he belongs in Sunday League football. He has been Barcelona’s first-choice keeper for the past six years and, at 27, is entering the prime of his career. Yet, curiously, he has never been capped by Spain (largely because of the presence of Iker Casillas and Reina). It is safe to say that few would place him among a hypothetical global top ten of goalkeepers.
It is entirely possible that we are misreading these eight goalkeepers. After all, ’keepers are generally judged on highlights — decisive saves and big blunders — and, where there are none, reputation seems overwhelmingly important. You can stick Piers Morgan in the Manchester United goal and, if he doesn’t face a single shot, you’ll probably still believe that he is a rubbish goalkeeper. Put Casillas or Gianluigi Buffon in and you’ll go on thinking he’s one of the world’s best.
That said, it is safe to say that outstanding goalkeeping hasn’t played a big part thus far in the knockout phase of the 2008-09 Champions League. Which is not to say it won’t do so from here on in.
read the full and original article here
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author: Gabriele Marcotti